HC Deb 21 March 1823 vol 8 cc642-6
Mr. Wallace

moved the order of the day for going into a committee on this bill.

Mr. Robertson

believed, as far as he had been able to ascertain the general feeling of the commercial interests in this country, that there was not a single exception taken to the principle of this bill. But, though it was of vital consequence to the empire in itself, its machinery was such as would be very likely to destroy all its good effect. The object of the bill was, to allow foreign manufactures and produce to come into our warehouses, and to go out of them again, with the greatest possible facility: so that foreign commerce might be carried on in this country, with greater advantage than it could be in others. The unnecessary caution, however, which government had manifested to secure the revenue, tended to destroy the advantages which would otherwise accrue from it. This was the complex part of the bill—when foreign goods were deposited in our warehouses, those who exported them again were, by law, required to give bond for such exportations taking place; and this was usually done by the merchant, captain, or some other efficient authority. Now, when the vessel in which they were exported was once fairly out of our ports, he conceived that these goods were in just the same situation as if they had never been in our warehouses; and, therefore, that no further protection or precaution; on the part of government, was necessary. So much of the bill as recognized this principle he quite approved of; but the government not content with this, called upon all the other nations of the earth to protect our revenue. Now, what had the merchant of the continent of Europe, or the merchant of Asia, to do with our revenue? Under this bill, when the foreign merchant took the goods out of the warehouse, he engaged, upon oath, to certify, that they should be landed precisely at that foreign port which the bond specified they were to be exported to. The consequence was frequently this—when the vessel arrived at such foreign port, she found the market already glutted with the kind of produce she carried; but she was obliged to land her cargo, and was not permitted to sail to some other port without breaking bulk. He conceived that this defect might easily be remedied, by the master or other efficient person's giving a bond that such goods should not be re-landed in this country. Then, as to our colonies. Vessels carrying out foreign goods to the colonies were required to pay the duties before they sailed. It was to be recollected, that our colonies stood in a very different situation from what they did two years ago; for their ports were now opened for the importation of foreign goods. Then, if the duties were to be paid on such goods here, how could they, on arriving in the colonies, stand a cent petition with those which did not come from the mother country? He warmly approved of the principle of the bill, and was desirous that it should be rendered as complete as possible.

Mr. Bright

was very desirous that the committee upon the bill should stand over until after Easter, in order that its provisions might be circulated among those to whom the subject was of great importance.

Mr. Wallace

said, he was not prepared to hear any objections on the score of hon. gentlemen being taken by surprise. The bill had been already printed five times over; and he now proposed the committee in pursuance of a distinct pledge which he had given to an hon. gentleman opposite, that the measure should be brought on at an early period of the session, to give time for mature discussion through all its stages.

Mr. S. Wortley

denied that individuals who were interested in the bill had had sufficient opportunity of ascertaining how far their interests were affected by it. The merchants at Leeds had called a meeting upon the subject, conceiving that a part of the bill was calculated materially to injure them. He was desirous of delay until the result of that meeting should be ascertained.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the bill, with the exception of one clause, was the same as that of last year. That clause was an exception in favour, or, as he should say, in disfavour, of silk and linen goods. The House, last session, had suggested, however, that such a clause should be introduced. Now, he understood the hon. member for Yorkshire to wish that woollens should be included in the same exception; and in that case the hon. member would have ample opportunity to press the introduction of a provision to that effect, in the subsequent stages of the bill. He, nevertheless, conceived that the hon. gentle, man's constituents took a very bad view of their interests.

Mr. K. Douglas

did not conceive there was any ground for apprehension on the part of the persons interested in the woollen trade. We, at present, exported woollens to the amount of 7,000,000l. annually, of which 3,000,000l. were exported to continental Europe, 2,000,000l. to America, and 1,200,000l. to the, East Indies. He did not conceive, therefore, that we were in much danger from foreign competition. The present measure, he was persuaded, would be extremely beneficial.

Mr. Benett,

of Wilts, was persuaded, that the general principle of the bill was excellent. He feared, however, that the framers of it had got into a hobble, by listening to the representations of the persons concerned in the silk-trade. If they persevered in that part of the bill, he should move a similar exemption, in favour of woollens.

Mr. Marryat

considered this bill of the utmost importance to the country. He thought the prejudices which seemed to exist against it very extraordinary. It did not touch our manufactures; but affected only foreign goods that had been brought into our markets. The revenue, which it was calculated took one-fourth of what was earned and expended by every body in the kingdom, was mainly interested in the bill. There was scarcely a kingdom of Europe into which British goods might not be imported, and from which they might not be exported; and the consequence was, that there they could most easily make up assorted cargoes of any description. Hence it had hitherto happened, that foreign merchants had been able to supply foreign markets to much greater advantage than we could. To remedy this defect the bill had been framed.

Mr. T. Wilson

said, the reason of the exceptive clause was obvious. Why was the exception made in favour of silk?—because the duties on silk were so enormously high. Why was the exception made in favour of linens?—because the distresses of Ireland had induced the legislature to manifest some feeling for her want of capital. It would be unfair not to extend the same exemption to the woollen trade, as long as it was subjected to the present tax. He agreed with the right hon. gentleman on the general principle of the bill; but he thought it was straining it too far not to allow that there were peculiar cases which ought to be exempted from its operation. If no other member should anticipate him, he would move in the committee, that the word "woollen" should follow the word "linen."

Mr. Philips

said, the exceptions in favour of silks and linen were only made to meet existing prejudices. It was matter of notoriety, that our commerce had suffered seriously in consequence of the want of a more liberal policy. He had made inquiries respecting the woollen trade, and had learned, that it was in a progressive state of improvement, and could maintain a competition in the foreign market. He objected to the tax upon wool as strongly as any man could do, and would support a motion for repealing it; but he could not give his approbation to any measure which should have for its object to continue the law in its present state.

Mr. Dominic Browne

said, he would divide the House, unless the right hon. gentleman would allow the bill to be recommitted after the holidays.

Sir H. Parnell

was of opinion, that the bill would be very beneficial to the Irish trade, as it would make a greater opening for the linen manufactures of that country than at present existed.

Sir J. Newport,

having on former occasions opposed the principle of a free trade, took the earliest opportunity of declaring, that he considered the opinions Which he had formerly entertained upon that subject to be quite erroneous, and had arrived at the conviction, that the trade of Ireland would be greatly improved by throwing it quite open. An opinion in favour of a free trade, was fast gaining around in that country.

Sir. M. W. Ridley

said, that the House ought to look at the general principles of the bill, and not refrain from proceeding on account of objections being made to some of its details. Particular interests might be partially injured by the operation of the bill, but he was of opinion, that the measure, taken altogether, would be highly beneficial to the commerce of the country.

Mr. Ricardo

was of opinion, that the bill was founded on a sound and judicious principle, and one which ought to prevail throughout our commercial code. The country was greatly indebted to the right hon. gentleman for his efforts to liberalize the system of trade. It was impossible to make a law which would not interfere with the interests of some classes; but the one before the House, while it was calculated to advance the public welfare, interfered as little as possible with particular interests.

Mr. Hume

called the attention of the right hon. gentleman to the severe duty of 3 per cent, which was levied by the Levant Company, to the great prejudice of the Turkish trade, and hoped he would take that grievance into consideration. As to the bill, it was his opinion, that it ought to have no exceptions. It was favourable to the general interests of the country, and he would therefore give it his decided support.

The House divided: For going into a Committee, 82; Against it, 8.

List of the Minority.
Benett, J. Sumner, H.
Bright, H. Tulk, C. A.
Dickinson, W.
Grattan, J. Browne, D.
Smith, W. Wortley, S.

The House then went into the committee. After some discussion, Mr. S. Wortley's Amendment, that woollens, as well as silks and linens, should be exempted from the operation of the bill, was negative the remaining clauses of the bill were gone through, and the House resumed.